Operation Hearing Aid
August 24, 2017
Do I have your attention, or do we need to get the closed-captioning going so that you will understand? It's not really funny if you are one of those who has lost hearing on the job, in battle or during an unplanned emergency. Recently, here is what I heard on the range: "Our leadership says we don't need ear pro[tection] or cans on our long guns because when we get in a gunfight, we won't hear them anyway because of auditory exclusion."
Let's cut to the chase. When you are stressed in a life-and-death situation, such as a shooting, your elevated heart rate will help induce auditory exclusion. Auditory exclusion is a physiological issue, not a physical one. This is important to know because the fact that you have radically attenuated aural inputs has nothing to do with your ears. Your ears continue to function as they should; it is your brain that has shut down its receiving station. Loud noises still travel down the ear canal and damage the tympanic membrane and the fragile hairs of the cochlea. Ear damage happens regardless of whether you are experiencing auditory exclusion. So, what's the cure, and how does this apply to those in harm's way?
Auditory exclusion is prevalent in military personnel, law enforcement and citizens pushed to their limits by life-and-death circumstances. We don't see these radical cases with individuals who are seasoned professionals with large files of experience as well as higher levels of training. So, once again, training and experience are king. If you feel you have reached that level, you will find out for sure the next time you make contact. To be clear, I am not an expert; I am speaking as a fan of those who do this job every day, the men and women who are there to defend our country and communities.
So, how do we overcome auditory exclusion? We train as hard and as frequently as possible, then we take into account the years of experiences that make us who we are. You really won't know until the next time you hear the sound of gunfire, and each and every time can be different. What is more important is how we mitigate the risks involved with extremely loud, ear-damaging noises.
A South Florida law enforcement leader told his guys to "suck it up." "Clueless" is a call sign that comes to mind for this man. In reality, he should be taking care of business and supporting his officers in any way possible to make their mission a success, not arbitrarily causing physical damage to those who come in contact with bad guys. Documenting a few cases of auditory exclusion in your jurisdiction should help you set a couple of goals. First, get more realistic training for your people. Secondly, get them the protection they need to save their hearing during gunfights.
Providing ear pro is an easy way out of this auditory exclusion mess, and sound-sensing ear protection is the ideal solution for tactical teams that will have the time to muff up before a situation arises. The average patrol officer won't have this luxury unless they're able to wear in-ear protection during normal operations. More than likely, this works well for most officers.
I hunt a lot and try to use ear pro when in the woods, but only when I get ready to shoot. I hear better with sound-amplifying protection than bare ears. I do this because when I shoot an animal, I hear the shot. Being comfortable in that situation is good and bad. It's good because I don't have to fight nerves. It's bad because those guns sure are loud without the aid of auditory exclusion.
Another point that a police sergeant brought up is that you need ear pro to protect your ears, but you may need to hear something extremely important after the initial shooting, such as, "Look out behind you!"
This range conversation originally started with the discussion of suppressors on carbines. We should delve a bit deeper. Pistols are loud, especially in an enclosed environment. If the room is concrete, it gets even worse. By and large, pistols don't sound as loud as carbines, especially carbines that have been equipped with muzzlebrakes. Now, to be clear, this is my perception. In reality, the decibels measured with devices at the shooters left ear tell us that pistols are just as loud as carbines, but for some reason I don't distinguish them as such.
There are some downsides to hanging a can on the end of your carbine. There is the additional weight and length of the carbine; if you have a 16-inch barrel, the carbine is now a little muzzle heavy when the can gets screwed on. Another downside is in regard to function. If you have a carbine-length gas system, which is around 7 inches, your carbine is already running extremely fast because of the high port pressures. With additional back pressure from the suppressor, your bolt carrier velocity usually increases as well. I am talking standard direct-gas systems here. With increased bolt carrier velocity, we have the degradation of reliability. Magazines have a harder time keeping up, and there is additional gas blast into the eyes of the shooter through the insignificant space around the charging handle. Now, in all fairness, there is a way to fix this. I prefer a mid-length gas system on 16-inch barrels. Mid-lengths are around 9 inches long and will significantly improve the function of your suppressed system. There are also a few charging handles that mitigate the gas blast, but if you reduce gas with a mid-length system, you won't notice the gas blast as much either. OK, there are a few Debbie Downers with a suppressor, but what about the positives?
Suppressors are cool, but when you are in a gunfight and everyone around you is shooting without a suppressor and you just aren't making much noise, you lose that cathartic feeling of bringing loud noise and destruction on your enemy."
— Michigan National Guard Soldier
What good comes from the use of suppressors? If you can get past the fact that your carbine is a little longer with the suppressor, it won't take long to fall in love with this device. The U.S. government calls this a "destructive device," when, in fact, it is an ear-saving option that every long gun should have attached. Suppressor technology has come a long way in the last several years. From the old days in Special Forces when we had to use the SOPMOD Knight's Armament can (that didn't work well for our applications), to modern-day, lightweight, easy-on and -off titanium cans. These suppressors may require cleaning, but they are virtually indestructible when used on a semiautomatic firearm.
The next benefit that comes to mind is battlefield situational awareness. No matter the arena, you will be more aware of what is happening around you. With a suppressor attached to every friendly element's carbines, you immediately know where the enemy is when you hear unsuppressed gunfire. No doubt about it, all elements will be switched on to the whereabouts of the bad guys. In addition to crushing the ear-punishing crack of the 5.56 carbine, the suppressor acts as a flash suppressor. Not all suppressors are created equal, and ammunition selection also influences flash suppression. Generally, the suppressor will mitigate flash, which also helps you remain safe from those unaware bad guys who shoot at muzzle flashes.
A benefit that is not often cited is the confusion suppressors bring to your enemy. They make it more difficult to discern from which direction and what distance the fire is coming.
Suppressed fire is still loud from the AR, but the decibel reduction takes away the pain. This also aids in communication. As stated earlier, danger can come from missing a simple command or warning from another officer or soldier. While carrying a short-barreled carbine in combat, I used my suppressor for the previously-mentioned reasons, but I also used the suppressor to increase the length of the carbine to a more manageable length. Some folks like short guns; I am not one of those dudes. I prefer at least 14½ inches of barrel so that I can get a better forehand grip to drive the weapon and control it during recoil. The suppressor added the length that I needed.
In the long run, we should be equipping our fighting men and women with suppressed carbines and, hopefully someday, integrated pistol suppressors. We continually add lifesaving and protective equipment in all other facets of public service, why not save their hearing? I hope technology continues to be impressive. In-ear gunshot-dampening devices would be an excellent addition to the gear lists.
As for now, when I hear someone telling me to depend on auditory exclusion to dampen the blast of gunfire, I will just turn down my hearing aid to stop the absurdity.